plant of the month strelitzia nicolai

Strelitzia Nicolai, more often referred to by its colloquial name, “Wild Banana Palm”, is a familiar sight along the KZN Coastline, and in particular on the KZN South Coast.

These beauties can be relatively low growing, with masses of dark grey-green banana palm type leaves which are distichous, I,e, arranged alternately in 2 opposite vertical rows, which can reach up to 1.8m x 0.6m, or it can grow tree like, reaching an impressive 12 meters in height with ringed unbranched woody trunks.

The trunks of this plant are true woody stems, unlike the actual wild banana, which does not have woody stems, but rather stems or trunks like the familiar banana palm.

The flowers of this beauty are particularly impressive.
Growing in a purplish hued boat shaped spathe which can reach up to 45cm, with white sepals and blue petals, they grow with about 5 of the boat shaped spathes arising from the preceding one, and in the process turning 90 degrees to the spathe preceding it.
These are followed by distinctive triangular shaped seed capsules, containing hard black seeds, each surrounded by a bright orange pulpy covering.

This plant is endemic to Southern Africa, ranging from the Eastern Cape, as far up the coast as the south of Mozambique, and inland to Eswatini.

These plants make excellent accent or focus points in a garden, but they are frost sensitive, so if you live in area where frost occurs, it’s wise to bear this in mind. Th
ey can however withstand strong salt laden winds, so an ideal coastal tree.

Interestingly, the plant is one of the few which contains bilirubin, a pigment usually found in animals.
The dry leaves are used as binding agents for building huts and fish kraals, the spathes used as clothing, and the dry seeds are ground to produce a flour.

They prefer well drained rich soil, either in full sun or semi shade.
Once established, these plants can grow very quickly, although they do slow down during the winter months.
Beware of planting Strelitzia Nicolai close to buildings or paving. They have invasive roots, which may cause structural damage.
The plants may also be mildly toxic to dogs, cats and horses (if your dogs and cats are inclined to nibble on trees…)

Tree frogs hibernate at the base of the big leaf stalks, and the butterfly larvae of the Strelitzia Night-Fighter feed on the leaves.
The nectar is a firm favourite with collared and olive sunbirds, with the tree offering general protection for birds.
Green and Red-Billed wood hoopoes are among the birds which eat the fruit of the plant, and vervet monkeys leave to eat the arils, the bright orange pulp surrounding the seeds.

If you have a very bright indoor space and are looking for a large container plant, then this is the plant for you!
Avoid direct sunlight however as this can scorch the leaves of the plant (as would be the case with most container plants)
It prefers rich well drained soil, and relatively high humidity (which you can achieve by simply misting the plant)

Avoid the temptation to over water this plant indoors. It will quite probably rot if you do.
Use your finger to determine the moisture content of the soil.
If the soil is slightly moist, then don’t water.
Allow the top half of the soil in the pot to dry out before watering again.
Although the plant will not flower indoors, the glossy leaves are incredibly striking and if taken care of correctly, will thrive in containers.